Prior to becoming President, Abraham Lincoln was given an orangewood cane at a July 4, 1859, Atlanta, Illinois, rally organized to celebrate the nation’s birthday. The cane was a gift of an old friend of his named Sylvester Strong. Lincoln was asked to speak at the event, but declined, recommending someone else. This orangewood cane with ‘knots inlaid with silver’ and ‘inscribed with Lincoln’s name’ later went with Lincoln to Washington, DC1.
Of course, Lincoln likely owned a number of canes through the years, as canes/walking sticks were very popular back then. Some were probably given as gifts as this one was. Eventually, this particular cane went out of the Lincoln family’s possession—I found evidence that my second-great-grandfather’s brother Job W. Angus (b. 1821) was the cane’s caretaker between 1895 and 1906. (Job died in 1909.) Ultimately, the cane found its way into the Smithsonian Institution’s collections. Whether or not it is still there, I do not know. I attempted to find out, but came up empty-handed.
As you may recall from previous posts, Job was a well-known and highly regarded building contractor and superintendent, based in Washington for much of his life. One of the construction projects he oversaw was of the iconic Smithsonian building known as ‘The Castle’. Job was a friend of Lincoln’s, providing the venue for the first inaugural ball and erecting the catafalque on which Lincoln’s body lied in state. While Lincoln himself did not give Job the cane, I am sure it was a possession that Job treasured immensely for the short period it was in his hands.
I learned of the cane’s existence on the Internet Archives site, after coming across a booklet entitled Curios and Relics. Clothing Accessories. Canes Owned by Lincoln. It contains excerpts from newspapers and other sources that are held by the Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection. The booklet contains a letter dated June 4, 19742, that was sent by Herbert R. Collins, Associate Curator, Division of Political History, Smithsonian Institution, to Mr. Mark E. Noely, Jr., Editor of the Lincoln Lore newsletter, Lincoln National Life Insurance Company, Fort Wayne, Indiana. The cane, located within the Smithsonian’s collections, was allocated Accession no. 203979, and was donated by Samuel J. Prescott. The description of the cane was given as follows:
The cane is made of orangewood and painted black but has since been sanded down and refinished in natural. The wood is studded with U4. knots, each having a top of silver upon which one letter of Lincoln’s name is engraved, so that the whole name is engraved, so that the whole series of letters from the handle to ferrule spell “Abraham Lincoln.”
There is a slight indenture on the top of the cane before the bend of the handle which indicates that a medal band was once there. Although this has been sanded extensively it is still visible. Two tacks and a rough unsanded end at the very end of the handle indicates a medal plate has been lost from that location.
This cane fits the description of one given to President Lincoln on July 4, 1859, when the city of Atlanta, Illinois asked him to speak for their celebration at Turner’s Grove for the Nation’s birth. Lincoln did agree to come but refused to speak. On the occasion Mr. Sylvester Strong, an old time friend of the President presented him with an orangewood cane with knots topped in silver spelling “Abraham Lincoln.”
First of all, the cane before it was sanded down and refinished would have had the appearance of buckthorn. Although, the stories of the owners of this cane since Lincoln are conflicting, it seems most unlikely that Abraham Lincoln would have owned two canes so unusual and yet so similar.
By the omission of the original plates, it seems as though someone might have gone to great effort to destroy the original documentation of the cane.
An account by Mr. Prescott states the cane was sold in Washington, D.C. in 1906 to Samuel J. Prescott for $50.00. Another account states it was sold at auction to H.H. Wibert for $145.00. The latter newspaper article seems to bear out the facts best as it states President Lincoln gave the cane to Frank B. Carpenter, the artist who spent six months in the White House studying Lincoln’s likeness. Carpenter died in the early 1890’s and the cane was auctioned by Fannie Mathews on at that time. Miss Mathewson held the cane as security for a loan she had made to Carpenter.- In view of these facts the newspaper article must date prior to 1895. The fact which now needs documenting is the transfer of the cane from Wibert to Job W. Angus sometime between 1895 and 1906. This would establish that the cane in the Smithsonian Institution is indeed the cane presented to Lincoln by his friend Sylvester Strong on his visit to Atlanta, Illinois on July 4, 1859.
Page 42 of the publication contains a black and white photographic image of the cane. A link is provided below (see endnote 2), if you would like to view it.
I found a further description of the cane in a book3 published in 1911 about the history of Logan County, Illinois, the county in which Sylvester Strong presented the cane to Lincoln:
In the overall scheme of things, I realize that Job’s association with the cane is an infinitesimally small footnote in history, but I thought it worth sharing this information with the Angus descendants who are among this blog’s readers. When it comes to researching one’s family history, even the smallest of details can be interesting, I think!
Have a great weekend!
1. Mr. Lincoln’s Country, from Illinois by Lincoln Financial Foundation, 1965, p. 111.
2. Curios and Relics. Clothing Accessories. Canes Owned by Lincoln. Excerpts from newspapers and other sources. The Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection, 1865, p. 39-42.
3. History of Logan County, Illinois: A Record of Its Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement, Volume 1, by Lawrence Beaumont Stringer (Logan County, IL: Pioneer Publishing Company, 1911), p. 227.